The Body Makers Test

Ugh! This never works the way it’s supposed to!”

With a yank at the zipper and the sucking in of my belly, the part of the dress that would zip up, unzips. I exhale, releasing my gut—its voluminous, squishy mass relaxing and nearly doubling in size as it flops over the top edge of my underwear. I pull the dress over my head and rip it from my body, my hair getting caught in the angry zipper. I sweat as I try to free it.

“What never works like it’s supposed to?” my sister asks through the dressing room door. I almost forget she is there—she and everyone else in the store. The horror that is my unclothed body is protected by nothing but slanted, wooden slats. “The dress?” she continues. “I thought you said you’ve never tried that one on before.”

“Not the dress. My body.” I finally free my hair, not without sacrificing a broken, tangled wad of it to the Zipper Gods of Unkind Dresses. I wince as I toss the now-inverted dress onto the bench. Just another in the pile of many.

By now I’m sweating profusely, and after pushing back the strands of hair that stick to my face, I find beat-red cheeks and eyes that turned from defeated to enraged sometime within the past minute—probably at the same time the zipper turned from merely stubborn to full-blown hangry. I hope it’s happy with fine, stringy, dishwater-blond.

“Sorry,” my sister says during my measured huffing. “You know you can’t get a new one until you pass—”

“—All the courses,” I finish for her. “I know.”

“Look, this is just one dress. Just get through this one event, and then by the next time another bowtie event comes along, you’ll have aced all the tests and have that new body.”

I sit atop the mound of disregarded dresses, just as weak and exhausted as I am defeated and exasperated. “How am I supposed to ace those tests if I can’t even get through a single course?”

Her silhouette moves closer to the door. Her voice is quieter when she says, “You can only do what you can do. Like I’ve said before, you’re not alone. I’m sure you’re not the only one who hasn’t been able to see the Body Makers in a while because of their health.”

How is that supposed to make me feel better? Of course I’m not alone. Of course there are others like me. That doesn’t help me feel well again though. It doesn’t fix my illness or give me a free pass with the Body Makers.

But my sister will never get that. She will never get what it’s like to be trapped inside a gross body that betrayed her. She will never get what it’s like to know that if she could just pass a few tests, the Body Makers would have her fitted for a new, streamlined body in no time, but that because of the body’s shitty condition, passing said tests is impossible. And that it may be that way for the rest of her miserable life.

She will never know the unfairness of all of that.

I sigh, standing in the skin they gave me years ago, that will probably keep me prisoner until I die. “Give me the next size up,” I say through the door.


Colorado Gold Nuggets

Attending Rocky Mountain Fiction WritersColorado Gold conference this past weekend was the best thing my writer self could have done. It was my first writing conference ever, and in my opinion, the best one for breaking into the world of writing conferences. I met lots of great people, learned at the feet of many experts, and left there feeling more pumped than ever to get to work.

I took pages and pages of notes while in the workshops, lectures, and panels, and I wanted to share just some of the nuggets I gathered. Even if they were things I’d heard before, it’s always nice to be reminded. Aside from learning how my characters scored on the Myers-Briggs test (Ian is an ISFJ), I also took in the following:

  • There’s a difference to tension and suspense.
    • Tension is a conflict or obstacle. It belongs on every page and in every genre. It can be external or internal. Overt or subtle. In action or dialogue. It should be visceral, and drawn out like foreplay.
    • Suspense is uncertainty. It creates questions and doesn’t answer them immediately–questions like Why, What, Who, When, Where, and How?
  • “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov
  • Showing vs. telling: don’t tell the reader how to feel! Telling:
    • is intellectualized rather than visceral (here’s that word again).
    • is general or vague, rather than specific.
    • is broad rather than granular.
    • is abstract rather than visual.
    • makes conclusions, rather than leading the reader to them.
  • Every single scene and line should move your story forward.
  • Point of View is the vehicle on which the reader rides into the story.
  • Write beyond the trope of Strong Female Characters. Women don’t have to use weapons to be strong, and they can still kick ass while loving girly things or being girly themselves.
  • Torture the ones you love–that is, torture your characters! The greater pressure you put on your character, the greater the true character shows.
  • Good fiction can be defined with five Cs: convincing characters caught in compelling conflict.” -Brandilyn Collins
  • Great stories have both a compelling climax and a devastating black moment.
  • Plot is what happens, and story is why it matters.
  • There’s a difference between an antagonist and a villain.
  • An “identity” is the role your character plays, and the “essence” is who they really are. The purpose of the plot is to showcase events in a compelling way that carries a character from “identity” to “essence.”
  • External and internal stories can, and should, happen at the same time.
  • Convincing characters have fears!
  • Convincing characters want something they can’t easily have.
  • Make sure your characters extend beyond the page.
  • Keep your details relevant.
  • Poetic techniques, like kennings, alliterations, rhymes, and meters, can add to your story. Let the rhyme and meter of your sentences reflect on the mood.
  • Have a great sense of humor when writing!
  • Omit dialogue tags whenever possible.
  • Less is more with info dumping (duh!).
  • A scene should always develop the plot and/or character.
  • Your POV character should always have gained either knowledge, skills, or resources by the end of a scene.
  • Conflict and tension are rooted in the character’s struggle to either gain or cede the upper hand.
  • Filler and POV filters are the blubber and gristle in your story. Instead develop the muscle and sinew!
  • Don’t think of sentences as bricks–walls keep readers out!
  • Scenes are vital structures where all the components come together: character, plot, and theme.

And lastly, I’ll leave you with this: “Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than any words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.” —Virginia Woolf


I let my mind drift, let the sound of beeping monitors and bustling nurses fade into the background. I’ve always been good at escaping. Mentally, anyway.

There was a time I tried escaping physically, too, when mental escape wasn’t enough. It was a night not so long ago, the night before I could officially call myself a teen, and I told myself that thirteen was young.

Thirteen was strong.

And maybe, I thought, if I could make it home, Jess wouldn’t have to spend our birthday at the hospital.

By the time I ripped the tubes from my nose and the I.V. from the back of my hand, the nurses had me surrounded, reminding me that age meant nothing. Not to my fatigued muscles and not to my fragile bones, strong and vibrant only eight months before.

Jess stayed by my side the entire day following, celebrating my newfound teenage-hood with the very nurses who kept me prisoner. I hate her guilt. I hate the way it makes her decisions. For as long as I can remember, Jess and I have celebrated our birthdays together, since I was born on her third. But I begged her not to that time. It was her sixteenth, and I begged her to spend it the way a teenage girl should.

But as usual, Jess never left my side. Instead of boys, music, and dancing, were tears, infection, and a catheter.

Instead of trendy clothes were hats, and even a mildly attractive wig.

I stare out the blackened hospital window now, unable to sleep. I take my thoughts elsewhere, somewhere far away and safe.  Somewhere where I am healthy and strong. In that place, I’m not poor, brave Haley, but beautiful, powerful Haley.

I draw my finger along the scar that stretches from the middle of my ribcage to just above my belly button, where it splits and continues down both sides of my abdomen—branding my stomach with the most horrific, twelve-inch upside-down Y. The raised skin is still sensitive, even raw in places, but I imagine it smooth, imagine that I wasn’t just opened like a lily six months ago.

I feel my hand over my silky head and imagine hair, too, imagine braids and ponytails and the annoyance I would feel when the wind blows it in my eyes. I would give anything to feel that annoyance again.

I feel a draft against my uneven skull instead.

It used to be red, my hair. Fiery and full of light, as Mom used to say. And once upon a time, my freckles (which seem so out of place now) matched.

My eyes burn and I set my jaw against the quivering.

I’m supposed to be strong. The strong, young cancer patient, smiling to give her mother the same hope she faked herself.

But Mom is gone and the nurses cackle outside my cracked door as though life isn’t slipping away in the rooms around them. For the first time in months, I’m alone—really and truly alone. And my solitude frees me.

I leave my bravery on the rolling tray table, along with the pudding I never touch, and let the tears spill. Tonight, I just want to be pretty again.

I want to dance like I used to, like gravity isn’t my worst enemy.

I want my first kiss, and though I know it’ll never happen, I imagine the way it would feel to have a boy’s lips against mine. Maybe Mark’s, the boy whose name decorates last year’s hot pink binder.

My solitude is interrupted when Mom enters the room, catching me in the middle of a breathless, teary gulp. She sees the tears drenching my cheeks and drops her purse at the door, rushing to me. For the briefest instant, I regret everything, because Mom could always cry at the drop of a hat, and usually I can soothe her.

But I’m still weak from leaving my strength on the tray table, and all I can do is cry the way Mom usually does.

Something strange happens when her arms encircle me. I feel something I don’t understand, coming from deep within and swelling in my chest. Then a warmth, the very warmth I’ve been fighting against. It too enters my soul, and my weeps drain me.

I don’t want to be alone, I realize, never again. But I’m not, because for the first time since the diagnosis, I absorb comfort from the same arms that rocked me as a young child, the arms to which I used to run, and the arms I’ve only recently rejected. These arms, warm and soft and smelling like childhood, give me something I can no longer give everyone else. They give me what I lacked all along and what I realize I’ve always wanted.

Thoughts of dancing again, maybe with her; thoughts of running and thoughts of hair, so long it tangles; thoughts of laughter and a body that knows no bounds.

The arms of my mother give me hope.


This is a piece I wrote about four years ago–a piece inspired by my little sister and her experience with battling liver cancer at age thirteen.

You Asked Me Anything…

Last week I told you to ask me anything, with the chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card, and I got exactly twenty questions! Well, here’s where I answer them. Read through (or don’t), and at the bottom I will announce the winner of the drawing! The questions were great, and thank you to all who participated. I wanted it to be quirky and off-the-wall, and though they were definitely that, there was also some great thoughtful ones. It was a fun experience! So, without further ado…

What is the date of a moment in your past you’d love to go back and relive again (but don’t tell us why)? It’s hard to pick just one, but July 30, 2015–the day I met Ryan, as well as three other amazing friends.

How much money is in the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow? Money? That crock is empty, so I would find another source of income.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich: yea or nay? Yea! In fact, when Alex asked me this question on Twitter, I ran to the kitchen and made myself one.

How much time do you spend on Twitter? This one made me laugh because, really, when am I not on Twitter? In all seriousness though, for all its downsides, Twitter has introduced me to some of my best friends and it’s a great place for the writing community–in my experience. It saved my life in a very dark time, and it’s how I found my first publishing contract (a pitch contest). So though I don’t know exactly how much time I spend on it (I don’t keep count), I have mad appreciation for it.

When you write: silence or music? If music, what kind? Why, to whichever you choose? I find it goes both ways and it depends on what I’m writing. Am I editing at the time, or actually writing? Am I in a crowded place, or at home in silence? When I do listen to music while writing/editing, it’s always instrumental. I find movie scores to be my favorite background noise to writing, if there is going to be any noise or music at all. And though this isn’t music necessarily, I have even written to the fantastic sounds of a forest (if you have Google Home, ask, “Okay, Google–what sound does a forest make?”). If I’m being honest though, mostly, I write to silence, and I find that the best. The reason is I get very easily distracted, especially in recent years with my illness and brain fog. Silence keeps me focused.

“What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” (with a link to this YouTube video) Well, shave his belly with a rusty razor, of course.

If your life was a movie, who would you cast as the major players? I would say ScarJo for myself, but she would play a better me than I can (and look a better one, too).

What is your favorite faery tale? Beauty and the Beast, hands down.

If you could go back and have any meal over again, what would it be? My mom’s teriyaki chicken, back during a time when everything with my family was fun and innocent.

Anime? If yes, which is your favorite? If no, consider Miyazaki’s works. Unpopular opinion: I never got into anime, so I can’t say I have a favorite (because I haven’t seen much). I also haven’t seen any of Miyazaki’s works. *waits to get hit with rotten tomatoes*

What’s a random skillset most people wouldn’t know about you? This one was really hard for me to come up with, because I feel like I don’t really have any random skillsets. I feel like I don’t really excel at anything (cue my self-depreciating side). I had to step away from this one and think about it for a while. What I came up with is this: empathy might not be a skillset, but I do excel at it. In fact, I might excel too much at it. Sometimes, it’s hard not to get bogged down by all the emotions of those around me, or those I love who are struggling. But it has helped me be a better mother, partner, daughter, sister, and friend.

Cake or pie? Now we’re talking. Do I have to choose? I mean, they’re both great. BUT…if I was forced to choose, I would say cake.

If you could forget one experience so you could enjoy it again for the first time, what would it be and why? This is so hard to answer, because there are so many things. But the one I’m going to go with is being published for the first time. It happened in a slightly weird way and didn’t quite go the way I had hoped (that’s not to say it wasn’t a great experience), but I would love to experience a debut book again for the first time.

What book do you wish you could read for the first time again? The Passage, by Justin Cronin.

Exactly HOW MUCH wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could transform into a ten-foot robotic humanoid with a strength equal to fifty-three Hulk Hogans and hands the size of your average moose antler? Well, I would assume that in this situation, he would be able to chuck quite a bit of wood. Maybe even all the wood.

Who would win in a fight: passive-aggressive Rambo, or Gaston that actually learned empathy? Sorry, Gaston, but I think passive-aggressive Rambo would kick your ass.

What is your favorite 80’s movie? Breakfast Club

Have you ever fallen in love with someone online? Um, yes–with all of you!

Think of a classic/acclaimed book. What do you dislike about it? Okay, I’ll pick The Giver. I actually really liked this book, despite its ambiguous ending (maybe even because of that ending). But one thing I felt was lacking were the details. Its message is transparent and it almost reads more like a short story, where some things happen and just are, for no other reason than to move the plot forward. I love the message of it, but I wish there would have been more substance to it.

Is Batman a superhero? What qualifies a superhero, though? If you’re looking at the strict definition of a superhero (“a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers”), then no, Batman is not a superhero. Does he do super things and have a lot of money and cool toys with which to do the super things? Yes. But…no. He is not a technical superhero. *waits again for rotten tomatoes*

That’s it for the questions! Thanks for reading, and thanks again to everyone who participated! Last but not least: the winner of the $10 Amazon gift card is…*drum roll*… Cory Tucholski, from Twitter!

Calling all Questions

Hey, everyone! For my next blog post, I want to do an AMA…with benefits!

Do you have writer or book questions you’ve always wanted to ask? Questions about the writing process? Personal questions? Even off-the-wall creative questions? Ask away and you could win a $10 Amazon gift card!

When I say AMA (ask me anything), I mean it: anything! No question, no matter how personal, is off limits.

At the end of the week, I will do a drawing of all the participants (those who asked me questions), and one winner will get a $10 Amazon gift card from me–hooray!

So, send me your questions, either in the comments on this post, on Twitter, on Facebook, or email me at!